By Stephanie Reynolds

A common scenario:

You have been assigned a major project by your Vice President. It will potentially change the way your company does business and will impact many departments. You are jazzed because it will be great for the company, and you’ve been advocating this type of change for some time. It will be a complex, high profile change effort that could really catapult your career to the next level.

You start down the comfortable and well-worn road of researching and benchmarking best practices, recruiting staff, outlining the project plan, talking with your boss and other key supporters. It’s known territory, hence predictable and safe. You get ready to present the plan at the next Executive Team meeting.

The Meeting Goes South

In the meeting are the usual suspects, the CEO and his Vice Presidents, with a few key general managers. You think a few leaders may mildly object to the project, but you feel tight on your presentation and business case. You also feel you have the support from your boss and other executive team leaders, so you are very confident at the start of the meeting.

The CEO starts outlining the meeting agenda which has not been shared ahead of time. When one of his inner circle VPs sees your project on the list, you hear an audible groan. It’s time for your presentation. You get to your second slide and the questions start flying from the groaner. Then it seems like a pile-on from other powerhouses in the room. The timeline and workflow you are suggesting has many very concerned. The CEO is starting to agree. Your boss tries feebly to defend you and looks to the other supporters for help, but in the wake of upset, your support has seemingly dried up. The groaner suggests tabling the project for revisiting next year. The majority agrees, and suddenly it’s all over. But it was so good for the company…

Map Your Landscape

Understanding and effectively working your political landscape ahead of time could have saved your project. Painstakingly listing all the key players, their influence and power over the decision, and what their objections and personal/business goals might be is a critical step. The most effective leaders spend dedicated time on this. Get input from those closer to them if you don’t know the answers.

Spend Time with Objectors

To build the support you need, you may now have to pursue the unknown road—discovering people’s political agendas, even in what could be uncomfortable conversations where you cannot predict the outcome. We usually spend time (most of our time) “preaching to the choir”. It feels so good and fun to talk with those that agree with us. We need to spend at least as much time with those that feel they have the most to lose. Learn what you can upfront, and then meet with each of them ahead of your presentation to learn about their concerns and goals creating win/win situations for both their interests and yours. If you can’t get them to agree, at least you’ll know the level of objection you will be facing, and can possibly neutralize it with other key stakeholders prior to the meeting.

Do the hard work of creating supporters ahead of time, it will save critical projects and definitely benefit your career.

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